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Further Korean Tensions

December 20, 2010

Nork To Be Taken Lightly

It’s been about a month since North Korean forces fired artillery shells and rockets at the island of Yeonpyeong, killing and injuring both marines and civilians there, and tensions remain high on the peninsula. Despite intense and alarming media coverage here and in the west, a full-scale outbreak of conflict, Korean War 2.0, is still considered to be unlikely on the grounds that none of the players involved want it. It is thought the DPRK will want to avoid starting a war that they can only lose and, as cannot be emphasized enough right now, the Republic of Korea is far more interested in economic prosperity, growth and security, than pursuing a quixotic endgame against the belligerent gangster-regime in the North. That said, with North Korea having already carried out two egregious attacks against South Korea this year alone, the fear is that yet another aggressive action from the Norks will demand a response from the South and a resultant exchange of fire could only escalate swiftly.

As I type this, South Korean forces should be conducting a military exercise of live-fire artillery testing on Yeonpyeong, scheduled to run from 1pm – 2pm today. North Korea has, of course, issued a typically restrained series of threats in response ranging from the probability of what they call “self-defensive blows” to an all-out war with their now-customary afterthought of “nuclear warfare not limited to the Korean peninsula“. The only question is whether these statements carry any more weight than the usual sabre rattling Nork babble in light of the increasing severity of their recent provocations. Yeonpyeong island has seen all bar a few of its civilian residents evacuated in the days leading up to this exercise with the remainder issued with instructions to flee to the safety of bomb shelters should any further North Korean attacks ensue. South Korean society, on the whole, remains relatively calm and collected in the face of this North Korean brinkmanship although there have been hot-tempered protests staged by veterans groups and reports that the ROK marines have seen record numbers of recruits enlisting in the weeks following the bombardment. Despite this seeming shift in attitude amongst some sections of the Korean public, South Korea still has a great deal to lose in an escalated conflict with the North, not least of which would be hundreds of thousands of civilian lives.

Alas, North Korea has a long established pattern of initiating major provocations in order to extort aid and concessions from the international community and, coupled with their need to anoint Kim Jong-eun (the world’s youngest four-star general, apparently) with what can be seen as military successes to galvanize his image as his father’s heir apparent, it is expected that North Korea may indulge in yet further such provocations, if not in response to South Korea’s continuation of military exercises then possibly on the occasion of Kim Jong-eun’s birthday on January 8th. The implausible “Brilliant Comrade” is reported to be widely despised by the North Korean people and thus a hard sell to take over from his father, Kim Jong-il. Dissent is said to be on the rise in the DPRK, with reports of graffiti slogans attacking Kim Jong-eun being daubed on walls (at great personal risk to whoever has put them there).

So, we’re not out of the woods yet but, unless you’re a bear, this is no time to shit.

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